WASHINGTON – The divided U.S. Senate churned Monday towards a key test vote on President Barack Obama's stimulus package, which faced more hurdles to meet a week's end timetable for getting the huge bill to his desk.
"We have to complete this work this week. There is every opportunity for us to complete it by Friday," the start of a week-long break, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said as the seventh day of debate began.
"We're not going to leave for our President's Day recess until we complete this," Reid warned.
Obama's Democratic allies set a 5:30 pm vote to end debate on the roughly 827-billion-dollar package and were expected to draw a handful of Republicans -- though most blasted the bill as wasteful and doomed to failure.
"We are robbing future generations of Americans of their hard-earned dollars because we are laying on them a debt of incredible proportions," said Republican Senator John McCain.
A vote by at least 60 senators to end debate would set the stage for a final Senate passage on Tuesday.
After that, key members of the Senate and House of Representatives -- which last week approved its own 819-billion-dollar version of the stimulus -- were to huddle in a private conference to draw up compromise legislation.
That bill would then go to each chamber for final approval, sending the measure to Obama, who has set a February 16 deadline for the package and repeatedly warned that failure to act will lead to a US economic meltdown.
"We've had a good debate -- now it's time to act, that's why I am calling on Congress to pass this bill immediately," Obama said in Elkhart, Indiana, a city where unemployment rocketed from 4.4 percent to 15.3 percent in a single year.
"Folks here in Elkhart and across America need help right now, they can't afford to keep on waiting for folks in Washington to get this done."
Obama was also to make the case for the stimulus in his first prime-time press conference late Monday.
The president, who has drawn fire in some quarters for his handling of the measure, got good news in a new public opinion poll that found 67 percent of Americans approve of the way he has managed efforts to pass the giant bill.
Just 48 percent approve of the way his Democratic allies have acted, and a meager 31 percent say they like the way Republicans have handled what amounts to Obama's first major congressional showdown, according to the Gallup poll, which had an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points.
Obama could claim a key victory when the overall package clears the US Congress, though it could come without significant support from Republicans, who have denounced the bill as bloated with spending and lacking sufficient tax cuts.
"As for bipartisanship, you know, we're trying," Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer told MSNBC television early Monday, underlining that Republicans were able to add 100 billion dollars to the Senate version of the bill.
"We've accepted a good amount of their amendments, and they're still voting no," the New York lawmaker said, adding that "there's a lot of mistrust, frankly, on both sides of the aisle.
"We in the Senate, we're going to keep reaching out to our colleagues. And I think they're going to learn over the next several months, if not immediately, we're for real. We want to work with them," he said.
But Republican Senator Charles Grassley, who successfully pushed to get a 70-billion-dollar tax cut provision into the legislation, said House Democrats had given their Republican colleagues a "take it or leave it" ultimatum.
"There have been a couple of Republican amendments, but for the most part, this is what the Democrats wanted," he told Fox News Channel.
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